MORE support for cabinet members should be in place, Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths has told an inquest.

During the fifth day of the inquest into the death of Alyn and Deeside AM Carl Sargeant, John Gittins, coroner for North Wales (East and Central) heard from Ms Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs.

The Leader:

Lesley Griffiths AM arrives with Ken Skates

Asked about Mr Sargeant, she said: “He was one of my closest friends in the assembly.

“I remember vividly when I first met him at Connah’s Quay Labour Club when he was selected to be a candidate for Alyn and Deeside.

“He was very jovial - a larger than life character in many ways. He always tried to see the bright side.”

She said Mr Sargeant had another side, which became apparent over the years, and referred to the ‘life event’ which she said affected the Sargeant family.

Ms Griffiths said: “That clearly had a big impact on him. We talked about that in detail because our families knew one another.

“Professionally he was someone I knew I could trust 100 per cent. Equally we talked about our families too.”

The Leader:

Carl Sargeant

She had become aware of Mr Sargeant’s mental health issues over the years, she told the hearing, referring in her witness statement to having seen him break down and cry on more than one occasion.

“The last time I saw him cry was in August before he passed away,” Ms Griffiths said.

“That was during the summer recess. One evening we had food together in the bay - he said ‘the black dog visited and I have been to see my doctor for depression’.

“That was the first time he said the word depression to me.”

According to Ms Griffiths, Mr Sargeant had felt that he was being ‘watched carefully’ and that ‘his job was under threat’.

She travelled down to Cardiff with him on the day he was sacked, November 3 last year, and said she found the day ‘unusual’.

Ms Griffiths said: “It was bizarre, we both thought we would be leaving government. That was the conclusion we came to.

“We were on train for about three hours and we were both very apprehensive.

“Our phones were going off continually asking if there was a reshuffle.”

She said neither she nor Mr Sargeant had been given a time for their meetings with the First Minister, which she said was strange.

First Minister Carwyn Jones

Also unusual, she told the hearing, was the fact that she was sent to another office on the other end of the corridor while Mr Sargeant went for his meeting with Carwyn Jones.

She said: “I have been through reshuffles. It was very different to normal. I realised they were keeping us apart.”

Ms Griffiths told the hearing she did not learn of Mr Sargeant’s removal from cabinet until speaking to her driver after her meeting, adding: “I rang Carl and his voice was completely different.

“He asked about me first, if I was ok. He said he had gone, but that there was something else as well – he’d been told about allegations and he didn’t know what they were.

"I could tell by his voice he was in an awful way.”

She told Mr Sargeant she would go to see him, but he told her to go home and that he was going to see a friend.

John Gittins told Ms Griffiths that he was interested in possible support given to ministers facing pressures such as Mr Sargeant was.

He said: “The role that you have is very high profile. It carries great pressure and responsibility and that can be exacerbated by family circumstances, allegations, media interest..

“It doesn’t appear to me there are any significant support network available to you at the moment.”

Ms Griffiths said there was support available for AMs but that she would welcome more support for ministers, adding: “You don’t go into politics if you have a thin skin, but we’re all humans and we all have life events.

“I think that network should be there, absolutely.”